Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and Stress

Fight or Flight

Those who suffer with anxiety report uncomfortable physical symptoms including include shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, digestive problems, and muscular tension.  These symptoms indicate that the automatic ‘fight or flight’ response within the human body has been activated.  This is a natural response to a perceived threat that kept our ancestors safe when they were at risk from predators.  While this may no longer seem appropriate, the important thing to remember is that the body under stress perceives a threat (real or otherwise) and responds accordingly.

The physical sensation of stress is a result of a stimulus, known as a stressor and these are experienced from three sources.  The first is the environment, such as extreme weather conditions, noise, traffic jams and pollution.  Secondly, we can experience social stressors, for example interpersonal conflicts which impacts self-esteem, demands on time or competing priorities.  Thirdly we encounter physiological stressors such as poor diet, lack of sleep or injuries and finally our thoughts can act as stressors.  Our negative interpretation of situations can result in self-doubt or negative thoughts leading to a cycle of stress and anxiety.  It is important to note that anxiety can often be symptomatic of other problems such as depression or addiction.


Managing the Symptoms of Anxiety

There are numerous ways to help minimise feelings of anxiety.  Mindfulness and meditation help to re-balance the body and employs techniques to regain homeostasis.  Slow deep breaths help to lower the heart rate and also sends a message back to the brain that the perceived threat has passed.  The very act of taking slow breaths focuses the mind’s attention back to the body and away from the stressor, reducing its impact on the body.  CBT helps to dispute the irrational thoughts that promote anxiety.  It helps to break the negative relationship between thoughts, behaviours and emotions using an evidence-based approach.


The Gift of Anxiety

For those who struggle with anxiety, it may seem unthinkable to describe it as a gift.  However, we must acknowledge the evolutionary function of anxiety as an early warning system which helps to keep us safe.  Healthy levels of anxiety often manifest as that ‘gut feeling’ that tells us something is not working in our lives.  It may be telling us to slow down, to eat a healthier diet or pay more attention to our health.  Instead of trying to ignore our anxiety we might instead pay attention to it and listen to what it is trying to tell us.  It can be quite the challenge – often we resist learning what anxiety has to teach us because it calls upon us to make choices or changes which can be anxiety provoking.  If you choose face this challenge, anxiety, albeit uncomfortable, can provide a springboard for self-discovery and healthy change.